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“That’s a definite possibility,” I say. “But I think if we’re strong enough—if the nine of us stand united, with all of our strengths combined—I think they’ll believe we can do something pretty amazing.”

“Yeah but how will they know what our strengths are?” Brendan asks. “What if they don’t believe us?”

“We can show them.”

“And if they shoot us?” Ian counters.

“I can do it alone, if you’re worried about that. I don’t mind. Kenji was teaching me how to project my energy before the war, and I think if I can learn to master that, I could do some pretty scary things. Things that might impress them enough to join us.”

“You can project?” Winston asks, eyes wide. “You mean you can, like, mass-kill everyone with your life-sucking thing?”

“Um, no,” I say. “I mean, well, yes, I suppose I could do that, too, but I’m not talking about that. I mean I can project my strength. Not the . . . life-sucking thing—”

“Wait, what strength?” Brendan asks, confused. “I thought it’s your skin that’s lethal?”

I’m about to respond when I remember that Brendan and Winston and Ian were all taken hostage before I’d begun to seriously train. I don’t know that they knew much about my progress at all.

So I start from the top.

“My . . . power,” I say, “has to do with more than just my skin.” I glance at Kenji. Gesture to him. “We’d been working together for a while, trying to figure out what it was, exactly, I was capable of, and Kenji realized that my true energy is coming from deep within me, not the surface. It’s in my bones, my blood, and my skin,” I try to explain. “My real power is an insane kind of superstrength.

“My skin is just one element of that,” I tell them. “It’s like the most heightened form of my energy, and the craziest form of protection; it’s like my body has put up a shield. Metaphorical barbed wire. It keeps intruders away.” I almost laugh, wondering when it became so easy for me to talk about this stuff. To be comfortable with it. “But I’m also strong enough to break through just about anything,” I tell them, “and without even injuring myself. Concrete. Brick. Glass—”

“The earth,” Kenji adds.

“Yes,” I say, smiling at him. “Even the earth.”

“She created an earthquake,” Alia says eagerly, and I’m actually surprised to hear her voice. “During the first battle,” she tells Brendan and Winston and Ian. “When we were trying to save you guys. She punched the ground and it split open. That’s how we were able to get away.”

The guys are gawking at me.

“So, what I’m trying to say,” I tell them, “is that if I can project my strength, and really learn to control it? I don’t know.” I shrug. “I could move mountains, probably.”

“That’s a bit ambitious.” Kenji grins, ever the proud parent.

“Ambitious, but probably not impossible.” I grin back.

“Wow,” Lily says. “So you can just . . . destroy stuff? Like, anything?”

I nod. Glance at Warner. “Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” he says. His eyes are carefully inscrutable.

I get to my feet and walk over to the stacks of dumbbells, all the while prepping myself mentally to tap into my energy. This is still the trickiest part for me: learning how to moderate my strength with finesse.

I pick up a fifty-pound free weight and carry it over to the group.

For a moment I wonder if this should feel heavy to me, especially considering how it weighs about half of what I do, but I can’t really feel it.

I sit back down on the bench. Rest the weight on the ground.

“What are you going to do with that?” Ian asks, eyes wide.

“What do you want me to do?” I ask him.

“You’re telling me you can just, like, rip that apart or whatever?” Winston says.

I nod.

“Do it,” Kenji says. He’s practically bouncing in his seat. “Do it do it.”

So I do.

I pick it up, and literally crush the weight between my hands. It becomes a mangled mess of metal. A fifty-pound lump. I rip it in half and drop the two pieces on the floor.

The benches shake.

“Sorry,” I say quickly, looking around. “I didn’t mean to toss it like that—”

“Goddamn,” Ian says. “That is so cool.”

“Do it again,” Winston says, eyes bright.

“I’d really rather she didn’t destroy all of my property,” Warner cuts in.

“Hey, so—wait—,” Winston says, realizing something as he stares at Warner. “You can do that, too, can’t you? You can just take her power and use it like that, too?”

“I can take all of your powers,” Warner corrects him. “And do whatever I want with them.”

The terror in the room is a very palpable thing.

I frown at Warner. “Please don’t scare them.”

He says nothing. Looks at nothing.

“So the two of you”—Ian tries to find his voice—“I mean, together—you two could basically—”

“Take over the world?” Warner is looking at the wall now.

“I was going to say you could kick some serious ass, but yeah, that, too, I guess.” Ian shakes his head.

“Are you sure you trust this guy?” Lily asks me, jerking a thumb at Warner and looking at me like she’s seriously, genuinely concerned. “What if he’s just using you for your power?”

“I trust him with my life,” I say quietly. “I already have, and I’d do it again.”

Warner looks at me and looks away, and for a brief second I catch the charge of emotion in his eyes.

“So, let me get this straight,” Winston says. “Our plan is to basically seduce the soldiers and civilians of Sector 45 into fighting with us?”

Kenji crosses his arms. “Yeah, it sounds like we’re going to go all peacock and hope they find us attractive enough to mate with.”

“Gross.” Brendan frowns.

“Despite how weird Kenji just made this sound,” I say, shooting a stern look in his direction, “the answer is yes, basically. We can provide them with a group to rally around. We take charge of the army, and then take charge of the people. And then we lead them into battle. We really, truly fight back.”